CN strike enters second week with no end in sight

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NOTE: The strike has reached a tentative conclusion on Tuesday afternoon.

MONTREAL – The Teamsters Canadian Rail Conference is taking its grievances with Canadian National public as its strike against the Class I railroad enters its second week.

On Monday, the union released a 7-minute audio recording of a dispatcher apparently forcing a train crew to work after the conductor said they were exhausted and “unfit” for duty. The public release of the audio comes as both the union and the railroad blame each other for a prolonged strike that is starting to inflict damage on the Canadian economy.

Companies dependent on rail service are laying off employees across the country, including at Canada’s largest potash mine in Saskatchewan. On Monday, Nutrien Ltd. announced it was shutting down the Rocanville mine for two weeks starting Dec. 2 because of the strike.

“It is extremely disappointing that in a year when the agricultural sector has been severely impacted by poor weather and trade disputes, the CN strike will add further hardship to the Canadian agriculture industry,” says Nutrien President and CEO Chuck Magro. “Any further disruption will be harmful to our business, the Canadian economy, and Canada’s competitive position and reputation as a reliable supplier of fertilizer and food. However, most concerning is the impact on our hundreds of employees for whom this creates great uncertainty and hardship leading up to the holiday season.”

Meanwhile, in Quebec, farmers angry about a propane shortage drove tractors to Prime Minister Justin Tradaue’s riding office to try and convince the government to enact back-to-work legislation. While pressure has been increasing on Ottawa to end the strike, government officials say a negotiated agreement is “the most probable and the quickest way to solve” the situation.

While 3,000 conductors, train persons, and yard workers walked off the job last week, CN is still trying to move trains with locomotive engineers and a small pool of management employees qualified for train service. However, CN officials say the railroad can only provide about 10% of its normal service. Since the strike began on Nov. 19, CN has continued to move high-priority intermodal trains but little else.

“We are doing everything we can to move as much as we can given that we are in a strike,” spokesman Jonathan Abecassis tells Trains News Wire.

The strike does not include CN’s operations in the U.S., although it is possible the work stoppage in Canada will have effects south of the border.
Negotiations between the union and the railroad continued through the weekend with little progress. A Teamsters spokesperson says the railroad is “refusing to budge” on key safety issues brought up by the union. According to the Teamsters, CN has expanded its use of remote-control locomotives in yards despite protests from the union. The union has also complained that CN has made it harder for employees to take time off, increasing the risk of fatigue-related incidents.

CN has proposed ending the strike through binding arbitration where federal mediators would hash out a deal for both parties but the union has rejected that offer.

The railroad and the union have been in negotiations for seven months and have been working with federal mediators for the last five months. The railroad’s previous labor agreement expired in July.

A week after the strike began, it appeared the union was trying to fight the railroad in the court of public opinion with the release of a 7-minute audio clip from an incident in October 2018 near Pickering, Ontario. In the audio clip, the CN conductor — described by the union “a railroader with over 30 years experience” — tells a dispatcher that he and his engineer are not properly rested. The dispatcher asks the crew to take the train to the next station for a crew change but the conductor says they are in an “unfit state” to run the train. The dispatcher and conductor go back and forth for more than five minutes; the dispatcher asking the crew if they are refusing to do their job and the conductor saying they will only move the train with permission from Transport Canada. “We’ll move this train in an unsafe condition if that is your order,” the conductor says at one point.

The conductor ultimately did not move the train and was suspended for 14 days without pay as a result.

“This recording illustrates CN’s blatant disregard for the health and safety of our members and the public,” says Teamsters Canada President François Laporte. “This is why we are on strike against CN. This happens every day across the rail industry, and CN regularly intimidates workers who raise the issue of fatigue with the threat of discipline.”

“We’ve lost nine of our members in the rail industry over the past 24 months, including three from the group currently on strike at CN,” Laporte adds. “The rail industry is in crisis.”

In a statement to Trains News Wire, CN officials say they are aware of the recording and are “looking into the matter.”

NEWSWIRETrains News Wire

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